The Spurs increased their margin to five points early in the fourth quarter before Kenon put in a turnaround jump shot from way out and converted the free throw after being fouled. Then he made a steal in the New York lane and, sweeping past three men, raced downcourt for a fast-break jammer. The San Antonio lead was 85-75, and when Gale stole the in-bounds pass for another layup, Dancing Mu�oz and the Baseline Bums started waving the Texas state flag and spilling their Pearl over everybody.
The Spurs' final 111-103 victory included Kenon's 24 second-half points and Gale's career-high 22. But Paultz refused to be overly optimistic. "We're in good shape," he said, "unless the Doctor starts to go crazy. That can happen anytime."
Despite his 89 points in three games, Erving acknowledged that he was not making the big play when the Nets needed it. "I don't think any 40- or 50-pointer from me is going to save us," he said. "Our offense is incompetent. We can't afford the luxury of making bad judgments anymore."
In between tornado warnings the Nets held tough, serious workouts in advance of Sunday's fourth game. Taylor insisted there were no intimations of last spring, when New York won the opening game of a first-round series against St. Louis, then lost four straight. "That time there was bickering and unhappiness after three games," he said. "Now I sense a positive feeling. We have a chance to see what kind of men we are."
The San Antonio newspapers continued to demonstrate what kind of journals they were by publishing captions under pictures of Loughery and Erving, describing them, respectively, as "Mr. Obnoxious..." and "...beaten like a borrowed mule." Upon hearing the latter designation, Dr. J's eyes lit up just a bit. "We'll see," he said.
What everybody saw in Game 4, staged at the HemisFair, included the inevitable outburst of fury and fists; a nifty end; a resurrection appearance by the Nets' John Williamson; and, finally, the basic all-purpose, win-a-game, save-a-series dramatic sky dunk by Erving.
After Taylor and Spur reserve Guard George Karl had a punch up, beckoning both benches to join in a five-minute brawl; after San Antonio had seemed in a commanding position with eight-point leads all afternoon; after the husky Williamson had returned from a sore ankle, which had sidelined him for seven games, to keep New York in contention with 25 points in the second and third quarters (31 total); and after the Spurs had blown a seven-point lead with 2:49 to play, the game came down to this: Gervin standing at the New York baseline in possession of a defensive rebound with the score 108-107 San Antonio and 20 seconds left; Taylor leaping up from behind him to grab the ball and fling it to Dr. J; amid confusion, nine fellows waiting for a whistle to blow; and ultimately, the Doctor taking one power dribble and flying to the hoop for his quintessential slam.
The San Antonio bench complained bitterly that Taylor was both out of bounds and guilty of a foul on his steal. Instead, Erving was awarded a free throw, on a foul by Dietrick. He converted it for his 35th point and a 110-108 lead. When the Spurs could not get a decent shot off in the last 14 seconds, the series was tied and on the way back to New York.
"That's a long afternoon," said Erving later. "I didn't know the dunk was through until my hands were on the rim. It felt like a shot of life."
It wasn't a shot a borrowed mule makes every Sunday.